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State Am Round 1: BYU teammates Cole Ponich and Zac Jones share the lead

Ten years ago, Cole Ponich qualified for the Utah State Amateur Championship at age 13. Even though he missed the cut to match play, he eagled a par-4 hole at Ogden Golf & Country Club, showing the talent that suggested he may have quite a career in the historic tournament.

Stroke play round 1 co-leader, Cole Ponich finished with six birdies vs. one bogey to card a (-5) 65. (Photo: Fairways Media/Randy Dodson)

Ponich instead spent his high school and college summers pursuing other events nationally. But he returned to Ogden in a big way Monday. Playing in the second threesome of the day, the BYU golfer from Farmington jumped atop the leaderboard and stayed there with a 5-under-par 65.

Due to a back injury, Ponich redshirted during the 2023-24 college schedule and intends to play a sixth year for BYU. After winning the recent Sonny Braun Art City Amateur in Springville, he said his body “hasn’t felt this good in a long time.”

Round one co-leader and former champ, Zac Jones. (Photo: Randy Dodson)

BYU star Zac Jones, the 2022 champion, played the first six holes of the back nine in 5 under par, including an eagle on the par-4 No. 13, and matched Ponich’s 65.Coincidentally enough, two other Cougar redshirts are right behind them: defending champion Simon Kwon (66) and Tyson Shelley (67).

After Tuesday’s second round, the field will be reduced to 64 golfers for match play. The likely playoff is scheduled Wednesday morning, while the first-round matches begin.

Ponich resembled his old Davis High and Junior Ryder Cup self Monday, making six birdies and one bogey. He even birdied the par-4 No. 16 that plays as a par-5 for club members (No. 1 also is a par-4 this week, explaining the par of 70.

As for his game’s improvement, Ponich told Utah Golf Radio, “I don’t know what happened. Something just kind of sparked in my head and (I) said, ‘I want to get back to where I used to be.’ “

Jones’ 65 was more adventurous. His approach shot on the par-4 No. 11 bounced in and out of the hole, and he ended up with a par. That came in a stretch where he birdied Nos. 10, 12 and 15, while hitting a 4-wood just left of the green on No. 13 and chipping in for his eagle. “The game feels really good,” said Jones, noting the dry conditions were more challenging in the afternoon.

Other notable developments Monday:

The cut to match play will come at about 8 over par, judging by the fact that a first-round 74 was worth a tie for 59th place.

David Liechty, the 2023 runner-up, birdied Nos. 1 and 18 in posting a 68. Liechty’s church service mission status allows him to play and practice golf, although he has made only limited tournament appearances in the past year.

Carsen Dopp is the only home-club member who qualified for the State Am (two others received host exemptions). Dopp triple-bogeyed the first hole, but recovered impressively.The former Bonneville High School golfer birdied the par-3 No. 18 to post a 70.

Jones’ brother Cooper, who also plays for BYU, and Shelley’s brother Jackson, a Skyline High golfer who committed to BYU, also are in excellent position to make match play. Another Shelley brother, Austin, is just outside the cut line at 75.

There were two significant withdrawals. Martin Leon, the 2021 champion, took an available spot in the Trans-Mississippi Amateur in Kansas and Boston Bracken, the 2023 UGA Men’s Player of the Year, pulled out due to an ongoing back injury.

In the absence of Bracken, some other big names in Utah junior golf are inside the cut line, led by Lincoln Markham, winner of the 1st UGA Utah Junior State Amateur in June. Markham shot a 71; Bowen Mauss posted a 72 and Parker Bunn carded a 73.